'It's heart-wrenching': How development is changing Charlotte's golf scene – Charlotte Observer

When Barron Connell hopped onto his Ford tractor and carved his family?s eastern Mecklenburg County dairy farm into a golf course 60 years ago, the nine-hole Larkhaven Golf Club was one of the few daily fee courses Charlotteans could play.

Since then, the course has grown to 18 holes, founded a four-ball tournament that?s run since 1972, served countless hot dogs from the clubhouse grill and endeared itself to golfers with a family feel that?s the opposite of country club stuffiness. Larkhaven is the oldest public, 18-hole course operating in Charlotte. But this is almost certain to be Larkhaven?s final year: The club has agreed to sell itself to Meritage Homes, which plans to build 350 houses on the 140-acre property tucked away off Camp Stewart Road.

Larkhaven isn?t the only daily fee course in Charlotte deciding that its land can be used more profitably for something besides golf. Charlotte Golf Links, on Providence Road, closed in 2014, and developer Lincoln Harris is in the midst of transforming the 187-acre site into a massive, mixed-use development with shops, hundreds of apartments and homes, 500,000 square feet of office space, a new school and a gym.

And the owners of Ballantyne Corporate Park are weighing how and whether to someday redevelop their golf club, which totals almost 200 acres of valuable land in the middle of a development that sold for $1.2 billion last year. Ballantyne?s proposal to Amazon for the company?s second headquarters showed the internet company?s buildings replacing the 18-hole course.

Courses are feeling the pressure for two big reasons: There are a lot more golf options in Charlotte than when they opened, and golf has continued to struggle with a shrinking number of players. When you look at a map of golf courses in Charlotte now, Larkhaven president Ken Jamison quipped, ?It looks like someone?s got the measles, there?s so many red dots.?

?Thirty years ago, all you had to do was open the gates, and you had players,? said Jamison. ?It?s a lot more competitive now than it used to be. All the courses are in better shape.?


A photo of the original Larkhaven clubhouse taken in the early 1970s, where players used to warm up by a wood-burning stove.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Like many longtime players, Jamison?s roots at Larkhaven go deep. His father took him to play Larkhaven as a 12-year-old when the course opened in 1958. Fees to play started at $2.50. (They start at $20 now.) Jamison worked the course in the summers and played there with the East Mecklenburg High School golf team during the school year.

Now, the signs of encroaching development are all around, and Larkhaven golfers have been girding themselves for the club?s expected closure. Cresswind, an age-restricted development for senior citizens, is under construction on the adjoining property ? 850 new houses on land that was recently a forest. Novant Health is building a medical center next door. Charlotte Water crews are installing a sewer pipe through the golf course that could open up even more of the surrounding land to new development.

?It?s heart-wrenching. It broke our hearts,? said Perry Stokes, talking with his longtime friend John Carriker on Friday. They stood in the Larkhaven clubhouse, facing the no-frills grill pumping out sandwiches and fries. Carriker, 65, said he started golfing at Larkhaven more than 50 years ago. The two reminisced about warming their feet on the old clubhouse?s wood-burning stove and playing into the night by the light of golf cart headlights, once the club got carts.

?Part of us will go with this,? Stokes said, looking out over the rolling course.

A golf crisis?

Golf?s struggles have been well-documented over the past decade. According to the National Golf Foundation, 23.8 million people played on a golf course in the U.S. during 2016, the most recent year available, down from 25.7 million the year before. That?s about a 21 percent drop from the peak of 30 million players in 2005.

Changing cultural expectations have played a role, Jamison said. He recalled decades ago when it was common for wives to be homemakers and men to golf during the workday, or take a weekend day for golf. Now, more families have two parents working full-time, and the expectation that they?ll split parenting duties more equally. The culture of many workplaces has changed too, with cell phones tying workers to the office at all times and making it harder to slip away for a round.

Other Charlotte golf courses have met the same fate. In 2007, a homebuilder bought the 164-acre Pawtuckett Golf Club at Interstates 85 and 485 for $2.1 million, and is now building hundreds of houses on the land. Some back-of-the-envelope math shows how much money such deals can make a homebuilder: If the 350 houses Meritage wants to build at Larkhaven sell for an average of $300,000, that?s $105 million of potential value to be extracted from land that?s now selling $20 rounds of golf.

More than a dozen country clubs remain nestled in Charlotte?s wealthier enclaves, many of them built during the 1990s to anchor upscale neighborhoods such as Ballantyne Country Club and The Peninsula Club at Lake Norman. Some of them have had their share of troubles as well. In 2015, Firethorne Country Club in Union County was sold to ClubCorp, a Dallas-based company that also owns TPC Piper Glen, after falling into bankruptcy in 2010.

The closures and potential redevelopments have hit daily fee courses the hardest. But despite sporadic course closures, golf in Charlotte isn?t approaching a crisis, analysts say.

The redevelopment of golf courses is largely a response to a wave of overbuilding that happened in the 1990s and early 2000s, as the number of golf courses nationwide shot up more than 40 percent. Gregory Nathan, chief business officer at the National Golf Foundation, said the Charlotte region saw a major surge that mirrored the nationwide trend.

In 1987, the Charlotte region had 50 golf courses, as measured in 18-hole equivalents. Now, there are 70, a 40 percent jump.

?(Larkhaven) has been operating in an increasingly competitive golf environment,? said Nathan. ?Larkhaven?s closure is a continuation of that natural correction toward equilibrium.?


The practice green at Larkhaven Golf Club.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

And while young people might not be as inclined to spend three or four hours at a traditional golf course, they?ve flocked to a new concept: Topgolf. The driving range-like game, where a tracking system scores players on their aim as they hit balls toward glowing, multicolored targets, has drawn big crowds and long waits at Steele Creek, where it opened last year. Topgolf is gearing up to open its second Charlotte location in University City.

Topgolf promotes its food, music and drinks almost as much as the golf-like game, drawing millennials willing to wait hours to play. Counting Topgolf and other similar establishments, the NGF says an additional 8.2 million people played golf last year outside of traditional courses.

Also last year, Charlotte shot to the top of the golf world with the PGA Championship hosted at Quail Hollow Club, an event that drew a national TV audience and tens of thousands of spectators.

And not all daily fee courses are struggling. Ned Curran, president of Ballantyne owner Northwood Office, said golfers played more than 34,000 rounds on the office park-ensconced course last year, the most ever. That course dates to 1996, when Ballantyne was still fields and forests past the fringes of Charlotte.

?It continues to be part of a successful model,? Curran said of the Golf Club at Ballantyne, where fees start at $62. But Northwood is developing a new master plan for Ballantyne, and Curran acknowledged the course could someday change to accommodate more development ? perhaps shortened to nine holes, or replaced by new buildings altogether, as in the hypothetical plan they pitched to Amazon.

?It?s something we?ll grow into,? said Curran. ?We?re honest with people from a leasing perspective, saying it may not always be golf, but it will always have a lot of green space.?

Celebrating 60 years, waiting for change

Larkhaven is in its third generation of family ownership. The club?s history covers the walls near the entrance, where a players are greeted by a picture of Barron Connell, a Linotype operator who wrote to the U.S. Golf Association for instructional books on how to design a course when he was figuring out what to build in the 1950s.


Portrait of original course owner and builder Barron Connell.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

His son, Butch Connell, who helped build the course, is also commemorated on a plaque. The winners of the annual four-ball tournament are listed, back to first in 1972, on a board that sits under a framed ?championship belt? that the pros and some regulars used to pass around for laughs.

?In a city that loves its own sparkle, Larkhaven is a grassroots reminder of how Charlotte used to be and how golf, for most of us, will always be,? former Observer columnist Ron Green Jr. wrote in a 2008 story on the course?s 50th anniversary. ?It is not a country club and has never tried to be one.?

Charlotte City Council will consider Meritage Homes? application to rezone the golf course for residential development in the coming months. Assuming the plans are approved, the sale to Meritage would close after that, possibly late this year or in early 2019.

Jamison, the club president, said Larkhaven is still planning commemorative events to mark its 60th anniversary this year. And he?s optimistic about the future of golf, pointing to the younger generation of stars on the PGA Tour.

But he knows change is coming to Larkhaven, and soon.

?Change happens,? said Jamison. ?There?s a time for everything.?

Montana State volleyball adds Finnish transfer – MontanaSports

Montana State Sports Information release

BOZEMAN ? Carina Lehto, a 5-10 native of Lemp??l?, Finland and who recently completed her freshman season at Mississippi State, will transfer to Montana State and be eligible to play in the fall, MSU head coach Daniel Jones announced on Monday.

Lehto, a 5-10 setter, played in 52 sets for Mississippi State last fall and dished out a season-best 40 assists against Tennessee. In all, Lehto tallied 174 assists, averaging 3.35 per set. Defensively, she posted 42 digs, averaging .81 saves. Lehto registered a season-high eight digs against Houston.

?To say we are excited about the addition of Carina is an understatement,? Jones said. ?She brings a level of experience at the setter position that is very hard to replicate. Her understanding of the game, growing up in a volleyball family, is unquestioned.?

Lehto was the 2016 starting setter for the Finnish U19 National Team in the European Championship qualification tournament and was one of four setters invited to the Finnish National team camp in 2017. She played club ball for Rantaperki?n Isku and helped the team to third place in the U20 National Championships in 2016 and 2017. For her efforts, Lehto was selected as a setter to the National Championship tournament all-star team.

?Carina has plotted a course for her career well beyond her college years, which is exciting as she has big goals that will help us achieve ours,? Jones said. ?Her experience playing internationally with the Finnish National Team will provide great value to our gym. Her passion for the game and dedication to becoming her best immediately raises the standard of our program. The team loved her, and we are all anxious to get her on campus.?

Lehto is the daughter of Joni Lehto and Virpi Ollila. Her mother Virpi played collegiate volleyball at Brigham Young, while her father Joni was a professional hockey player.


Carina Lehto Cah-REEN-ah LEH-toe
Lemp??l? LEM-pal-ah

Hilfiger Teams With Formula One World Champion Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport – WWD

Tommy Hilfiger, which is owned by PVH Corp., is out to fuse fashion and Formula One.

In a multiyear strategic partnership with four-time Formula One World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, Hilfiger will become its official apparel partner.

Hilfiger will supply travel and team kits, as well as office and hospitality apparel for more than 1,500 individuals who comprise the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. Hilfiger?s logo will be emblazoned on the team?s 2018 race cars, which will be revealed on Feb. 22 at the Silverstone track in the United Kingdom, as well as inside the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport pit garage and other trackside assets.

?From the first time I attended a Formula One race, I was completely fascinated by the world of motorsports,? said Hilfiger. ?To be re-entering this arena with World Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and their number-one team is an incredible way to fuse fashion and Formula One. I recognize the passion, spirit and drive that the entire Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team shows at every race, and these shared qualities are why I?m excited to partner with them for the upcoming seasons.?

For the past four Formula One seasons, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport has won the Constructors? and Drivers? World Championships, with the team?s British racing driver Lewis Hamilton winning his fourth World Championship title in 2017 and Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas taking third place.

Avery Baker, chief brand officer for Hilfiger, said, ?We?re at a stage where we?re looking to expand very strongly in China, in Asia and in a lot of the international markets where Formula One and the Mercedes team are incredibly well-known and loved. For us, there?s been a big eye on international growth and expansion and this is a great platform for us.? She said the company also looks to put a spotlight on its men?s business, and bring the next generation of male consumers to the brand.

Hilfiger will design clothing for employees who are traveling to and from the various Grand Prix races and for those working in the office, on the track, at the races, and on the cars, she said. The lineup includes such items as sweaters, winter jackets and rain gear. ?There?s a lot of innovation to all the pieces and a lot of personality. They need to be prepared for all conditions and to be flexible,? she said.

With races held throughout the world, Formula One has more than 450 million viewers.

Hilfiger is no stranger to Formula One racing. From 1991 to 1994, he began an affiliation with Formula One, sponsoring the Lotus team. In 1998, Hilfiger became the first non-automotive brand to sponsor Ferrari, creating uniforms for the team, which included seven-time Formula One World Champion Michael Schumacher and British racing driver Eddie Irvine.

Daniel Grieder, chief executive officer of Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, said the partnership with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport represents ?our shared commitment to keep technology and innovation at the core of our business. We take pride in partnering with organizations that are the best in their industries and share our passion to attract and retain the best-in-class teams.?

Tommy Hilfiger partners with Formula One World Champs Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.

Tommy Hilfiger partners with Formula One World Champs Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.?
Courtesy Photo

?It is always exciting to embark on a new partnership, particularly when it touches such a key area of our team?s image; I am positive that will energize our brand and bring a new spin to how we are perceived beginning next season. We are excited to see how Tommy Hilfiger will dress the team this season and to showcase their exciting plans to the fans of Formula One,? said Toto Wolff, team principal and ceo, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.

For its spring campaign, photographed by Mikael Jansson, Hilfiger?s men?s collection and campaign ? which focuses on the car and the racing lifestyle ? fuses fashion and Formula One. The exclusive video teasers, print, online and out of home media placements will break globally today and will be supported by consumer activations. The men?s campaign will run alongside the brand?s women?s advertising, which also fuses elements of speed racing with fashion, and features Gigi Hadid.

In addition to the women?s and men?s campaign, the company is continuing for another season with its Chinese brand ambassador, actor Shawn Yue, who is a car and race fanatic, and his campaign is also inspired by speed.


Tommy Hilfiger partners with Formula One World Champs Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.

Tommy Hilfiger partners with Formula One World Champs Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport.?
Courtesy Photo


Ex-national chess champion still 'asleep' – Trinidad News

Della-Marie Walcott


FORMER national chess champion Della-Marie Walcott is still in a coma, but her family continues to be positive with hope she will awake and resume her life as a normal teenager. He said the family has rallied around her parents to provide support for them in this difficult time.

Tragedy befell Walcott in 2015 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour which turned out to be not cancerous. She had surgery to remove it on December 22, 2015 but did not make a recovery. A follow-up procedure was required but she slipped into a coma in January 2016 and has been in that condition ever since.

Walcott, who will be 17 years old later this month, was a student at St Joseph?s Convent, Port of Spain.

Speaking to Newsday yesterday, Amiel Mohammed, Walcott?s cousin, said he is optimistic she will improve.

?Della is still in the coma, she is home. Generally speaking, she is good, she is doing good,? Mohammed said.

Mohammed said nurses are by her side the majority of the time.

He added, ?She does not have any responses. Her eyes are open and everything, her bodily functions work as normal but she is ? for the lack of a better term ? just asleep.?

Mohammed said Walcott has support and the family even adjusted their family Christmas plans so Walcott could spend more time with family. ?Everybody still pops by and visits her from time to time, and because of how big our family is, we normally bounce around for Christmas Day lime, but we had the Christmas Day lime by them (Walcott?s family home) last year so everybody was there.?

Mohammed said Walcott is not on a machine currently, but she is being fed through a feeding tube and generally breathes on her own.

An account in the name of ?Friends of Della Marie Walcott? is still open at Republic Bank Limited ? account number 180801224831 ? for anyone wishing to further assist with her ongoing medical expenses.

T-shirts in support of Walcott?s cause are also available and can be purchased by contacting Mohammed at 755-3734.

NASCAR debuts fantasy game inspired by stage-racing success in 2017 – USA TODAY

Published 3:40 p.m. ET Feb. 5, 2018 | Updated 4:26 p.m. ET Feb. 5, 2018


USA TODAY Sports sat down with 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. to discuss his emotions after winning the title.

Following a successful first season of stage racing, NASCAR?announced on Monday a new fantasy game inspired by the competition format that has created closer, side-by-side racing and more dramatic moments throughout races.

The new NASCAR Fantasy Live follows the NASCAR official scoring system, allows players to make in-race driver substitutions and features incentives for correctly predicting stage wins, race wins and more. It is accessible on NASCAR.com (NASCAR.com/fantasy) and the NASCAR Mobile app.

Players can register at NASCAR.com/fantasy beginning Monday and set their driver rosters for the Daytona 500?next week when the race entry list is announced.

?In NASCAR, every lap matters,? said Tim Clark, managing director of NASCAR Digital Media. ?The new NASCAR Fantasy Live game reflects the lap-by-lap intensity of modern NASCAR racing by giving fans the opportunity to strategize and adjust their driver lineups in real-time during races.?

In NASCAR Fantasy Live, players pick five drivers to start prior to each Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series?race. In addition, a sixth ?garage? driver on the roster can be swapped in-race for any active driver before the final stage begins.?

Game scoring follows NASCAR official scoring and rewards points based on race results and driver finishing position for all three stages. Only drivers in the ?starting? position at the end of each race will earn fantasy points.

Individual drivers can be used a maximum of 10 times during the season. If a driver ends the race in the player?s garage, it will not count against the season limit.

During races, drivers running in the top 10 at the conclusion of Stage 1 and Stage 2 receive points, beginning with 10 points for the stage winner, nine points for second place, eight points for third place, and so on.

PIT CREW: New rules will test teams’ speed, athleticism, safety protocols

CUP DRIVERS: Want fluid, more compact schedule for Cup Series

NASCAR: Announces start times, TV networks for 2018 Cup season

Mirroring how Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races are scored, the race-winning driver earns 40 points, the second-place finisher 35 points, the third-place finisher 34 points, and so forth. The final four drivers to finish each race earn one point apiece.

Players can also score bonus points by correctly picking the pole winner (5 points), Stage 1 winner (10), Stage 2 winner (10),?winning manufacturer (10) and race-winning driver (30).

NASCAR Fantasy Live will run throughout the 26-week Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season and culminate with the Brickyard 400?at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept.?9. The overall points leader after the final race will be crowned 2018 champion and win $10,000.


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The Yankees' new coaching staff should seem very familiar to veteran baseball fans – MLB.com (press release) (blog)

The Yankees officially announced their 2018 coaching staff on Monday, and, like most teams around the league, it’s clear that rookie skipper Aaron Boone will be leaning on some fellow former Major Leaguers for support. Boone is, of course, famous for one of his finest moments as a player, but his coaches were no slouches, either.

Returning from Joe Girardi’s 2017 staff are pitching coach Larry Rothschild, bullpen coach Mike Harkey and hitting coach Marcus Thames. Rothschild only made it into seven games for the Tigers across 1981-82, while Harkey hung around for parts of eight seasons betweeen 1988-97, mostly with the Cubs.

Thames, however, got to author a unique moment with the Yankees on June 10, 2002. He became just the 19th player in MLB history to go deep on his very first pitch — against Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, no less:

Thames ended up slugging 115 homers for the Yankees, Rangers, Tigers and Dodgers until calling it quits in 2011.

That’s a lot of dingers, but it wouldn’t be tops on this coaching staff. Leading the way is new third-base coach Phil Nevin:

Nevin crushed 208 long balls during his 12 years in the Majors, including a career-high 41 during an All-Star season with the Padres in 2001. He actually played a small role in Yankees history before Monday, too. Back in 1992, he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Astros — five spots ahead of Derek Jeter. If Houston scout Hal Newhouser had his way, Jeter would have been an Astro.

New bench boach Josh Bard caught a decade in the Majors, and though he was far from the masher that Nevin was, he did have a debut to rival Thames. On Aug. 23, 2002, he started for the Indians against the Mariners, and he had already made his first game memorable by notching his first career hit in the fifth inning against Joel Pineiro.

Then, with the score tied at 2 in the bottom of the ninth, Bard faced James Baldwin and did this:

What a way to say hello.

Rounding out the MLB alumni on the staff are former outfielders Carlos Mendoza and Reggie Willits. While Mendoza only appeared in 28 games between the 1997 and 2000 seasons with the Mets and Rockies, respectively, Willits was a key Angels role player for six years. Whenever manager Mike Scioscia called upon Willits, he knew that his defense would be safely covered:

Scioscia had so much faith in Willits that even though he never went deep in 1,014 career trips to the plate, he stuck on the Angels’ roster for three AL West division champions from 2006-11.